UNHCR concerned by US migrant deportation flights
The UN Refugee Agency said Wednesday it was concerned about a new US practice of transferring asylum-seekers and migrants expelled under public health orders by plane to southern Mexico.
Those being expelled may have urgent protection needs and risk being sent back to the very dangers they have fled in their countries of origin in Central America without any opportunity to have those needs assessed and addressed, UNHCR said.
“These expulsion flights of non-Mexicans to the deep interior of Mexico constitute a troubling new dimension in enforcement of the Covid-related public health order known as Title 42,” Matthew Reynolds, the UNHCR representative to the United States and the Caribbean, said in a statement.
Title 42 is a coronavirus policy dating from the presidency of Donald Trump, allowing the immediate deportation of undocumented migrants — including those who arrive seeking asylum.
At the end of July, US authorities began deporting some migrant families on flights to Central America as part of an expedited system to remove people who arrived without authorisation via Mexico.
Expedited deportations have been a tactic used by both Republican and Democratic administrations in an effort to deter illegal border crossings, and comes amid a spike in arrivals.
The Department of Homeland Security said the families were sent back to their home countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, but did not provide a number of people.
“Removal from the US to southern Mexico, outside any official transfer agreement with appropriate legal safeguards, increases the risk of chain refoulement — pushbacks by successive countries — of vulnerable people in danger, in contravention of international law and the humanitarian principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention,” said Reynolds.
He said the expulsion flights would also further strain the humanitarian response capacity in southern Mexico and heighten the risk of Covid-19 transmission across national borders.
He also said they would run counter to the steps being taken to share responsibility among countries of the region in addressing the root causes of forced displacement and migration.
“UNHCR reiterates the May 2021 appeal by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi for the United States government to swiftly lift the Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions that remain in effect and to restore access to asylum for people whose lives depend on it,” said Reynolds.